Made in Mexico  
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Made in Mexico
Tradition, Tourism,
and Political Ferment in Oaxaca
Chris Goertzen

university press of mississippi/jacks o...
www.upress.state.ms.us
The University Press of Mississippi is a member
of the Association of American University Presses.
...
Contents
Preface vii
1.	 Introductory Case Study: Tales Told by a Pillowcase
from Chiapas  3
2. 	Crafts and Tourism in Oax...
This page intentionally left blank
Preface
I wandered around the main city square of the southern Mexican city
of Oaxaca on an evening in early July 2007. Ma...
viii  

preface

	 Just one aspect of zócalo demographics surprised me. During my
two decades of intermittent observation,...
preface

ix

can make and what the visitors will buy. The amount they earn seldom
exceeds a pittance, but it doesn’t take ...
Figure 1. Two rugs woven in Teotitlán del Valle by the sons of Felipe Hernández. Inexpensive, small
rugs (about 14” x 20”)...
Figure 3. The Danza de la Pluma, the most famous and spectacular of the dances making up the
giant festival called the Gue...
xii  

preface

The best of these specialized books I have encountered as of this writing
(in 2008), starting with the mos...
preface  

xiii

ous south of Mexico. The following two chapters widen the lens to the
crafts and the central festival of ...
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Made in Mexico
Figure 5. A pillowcase purchased in San Cristóbal, Chiapas, in 1997, in use in the author’s home. A
woman living in nearby...
1.
Introductory Case Study:
Tales Told by a Pillowcase from Chiapas
A beautiful pillow rests on a chair in our home in Lou...
4 

tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas

trained by the PRI, the ruling party (Nash 2003, xiv), and that state police ...
tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas  

5

mixed European and Indian blood—but Ladino also includes genetically pure In...
6 

tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas

unrest is that it attracted the attention of the press, and this publicity
pr...
tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas  

7

sionaries. When the second wave, anthropologists, arrived in substantial num...
8 

tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas

replaced the literal pilgrimage over time, but some of the ritual and the
hun...
tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas  

9

tragedy taking place? Not completely. Such commoditization has often
been sa...
10  

tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas

window on the negotiation of authenticity as embodied in the craft object i...
tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas  

11

Figure 6. A close-up of the “ancestors” pattern woven on the central panel ...
12  

tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas

Figure 7. A huipil (traditional blouse) from San Andrés Larrainzar, for sal...
tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas  

13

and emphasized. Intensification through selection thus helps turn an
authen...
14  

tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas

a huipil. Craftspersons for whom time is money welcome larger designs
becau...
tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas  

15

selection. These huipiles merit their daunting prices because of the high
l...
16  

tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas

from various government organizations to study and eventually teach
the use...
tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas  

17

on the colonial pedal loom, normally the province of men. Women can
set up ...
18  

tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas

own first criterion is that the design be attractive). I noticed that all t...
tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas  

19

	 Tourists want crafts to be both authentic—whatever that may mean
to them—...
20  

tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas

earlier employment with FONART,4 he had guided the formation of Sna
Jolobil...
tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas  

21

Paternalistic Cottage Industries Seeking New Market Niches

This category o...
22  

tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas

cious local entrepreneurs.) In most of these stores, the craftsperson faces...
tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas  

23

crafts from throughout the nation available in San Cristóbal. By the
same t...
24  

tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas

Figure 8. A traditional huipil from the village of Bochil, employing a desi...
tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas  

25

Figure 9. A relatively modern huipil from Bochil, of a type formerly unusua...
26  

tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas

Figure 11. Subcomandante Marcos, leader of the Zapatistas, has become a hou...
tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas  

27

Hawkers

Young women, often carrying babies, and countless children working...
28  

tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas

that one of the two states in Mexico that best draws visitors seeking an
“a...
tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas  

29

a cooperative in one municipio had successfully demanded money for
thread a...
30  

tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas

goods and organized paramilitary forces to keep the cargo system running sm...
tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas  

31

cupy untraditionally large blocks of time. Sometimes it pays enough that
wo...
32  

tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas

Village and Family

The many Maya individuals, families, and villages who w...
tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas  

33

long history of flourishing cooperatives, has a firm hold on the aesthetic
...
34  

tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas

1997 were not just following the orders of rapacious caciques; they were
fi...
2.
Crafts and Tourism in Oaxaca
Indian hunter-gatherers lived in Oaxaca as early as twenty thousand
years ago and added ag...
36  

crafts and tourism in oaxaca

	 The fertile Oaxaca valleys nourished an increasingly stratified society, one headed ...
crafts and tourism in oaxaca  

37

resisted). By the end of 1521, the Catholic mass had been celebrated in
the region of ...
38  

crafts and tourism in oaxaca

the treatment of Indians. Agents of the crown took a longer view than
did the conquero...
crafts and tourism in oaxaca  

39

to resolve a dispute between coffee growers and Oaxaca’s elite, during a
land-squattin...
40  

crafts and tourism in oaxaca

doned in favor of factory jobs as had become common elsewhere. At
the same time, mass-...
Made in mexico  tradition, tourism, and political ferment in oax
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Made in mexico  tradition, tourism, and political ferment in oax
Made in mexico  tradition, tourism, and political ferment in oax
Made in mexico  tradition, tourism, and political ferment in oax
Made in mexico  tradition, tourism, and political ferment in oax
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Made in mexico tradition, tourism, and political ferment in oax

  1. 1. Made in Mexico  
  2. 2. This page intentionally left blank
  3. 3. Made in Mexico Tradition, Tourism, and Political Ferment in Oaxaca Chris Goertzen university press of mississippi/jacks o n
  4. 4. www.upress.state.ms.us The University Press of Mississippi is a member of the Association of American University Presses. Illustrations courtesy of the author unless otherwise noted Copyright © 2010 by University Press of Mississippi All rights reserved Manufactured in the United States of America First printing 2010 ∞ Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Goertzen, Chris. Made in Mexico : tradition, tourism, and political ferment in Oaxaca / Chris Goertzen. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-60473-796-7 (cloth : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-1-60473-797-4 (ebook) 1. Heritage tourism—Mexico—Oaxaca (State) 2. Handicraft—Mexico—Oaxaca (State) 3. Festivals—Mexico—Oaxaca (State) 4. Oaxaca (Mexico : State)—Social conditions. 5. Textile crafts—Economic aspects—Mexico—Case studies. I. Title. G155.M6G64 2010 338.4’7917274—dc22 2010008991 British Library Cataloging-in-Publication Data available
  5. 5. Contents Preface vii 1. Introductory Case Study: Tales Told by a Pillowcase from Chiapas  3 2. Crafts and Tourism in Oaxaca  35 3. Tradition and Tourism in Festival Life: Shaping and Marketing Oaxaca’s Guelaguetza  74 4. Southern Mexican Contemporary Traditional Culture That Is Little Affected by Tourism  104 5. Things Fall Apart: Attacks on Tourism in Oaxaca and the Prospects for Recovery  135 Notes  173 References  177 Index  185   v
  6. 6. This page intentionally left blank
  7. 7. Preface I wandered around the main city square of the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca on an evening in early July 2007. Many sights on this zócalo were ones I’d viewed for a few weeks every year or so for decades. Most of the buildings are a century or two (or more) old, and there has been little turnover in the restaurants, stores, and government offices that occupy them. In the middle of the zócalo still stood the bandstand that I’d seen sheltering brass bands and marimbas so many times in other years, and most of the landscaping seemed familiar. The people seemed familiar as types, even if many individuals were new to me, and although many must have been newcomers to the city. Working-class and rich mestizos (both locals and visitors), impoverished Indians, and a variety of international tourists interacted in customary ways. Tourists are always there, in fact, because this metropolis of about half a million, situated at the confluence of three broad mountain valleys in southern Mexico, presents an attractive mix of colonial architecture and exotic ethnicity, as well as pleasant weather and affordable amenities. Craft stands in customary locations on the square, as well as stores filled with more crafts and signs advertising ethnically based cultural entertainment (especially miniature forms of the state’s giant annual festival, the Guelaguetza), line the square to attract those tourists. Members of the city’s middle and upper classes do have their own exclusive haunts on the relatively affluent north side of the city, including a U.S.-style shopping mall and nightclubs and discotheques where cover charges act as class-demarcating barriers. Nevertheless the nice restaurants on and near the central zócalo remain both a festive family destination and a customary venue to publicly display these families’ continued place at the pinnacle of Oaxaca’s economy and power structure. Thus the local affluent were just as reliably represented as each of the square’s other regular constituencies.   vii
  8. 8. viii   preface Just one aspect of zócalo demographics surprised me. During my two decades of intermittent observation, I’d always seen some evidence of social volatility in a small, clearly demarcated physical area, evidence of a simmering that was quite transparent and yet seemingly under control. That is, Indians from outside the capital have often camped along one edge of the square, the side with the government palace (so that their camp blocked no businesses, and the generous overhang of that long building protected their sleeping pallets from the rain). During several of my visits, one or another group of campers was in residence, quietly protesting the allegedly false imprisonment of much of the male leadership of their rural village. Something had gone wrong in their community that had resulted in violence followed by mass arrests, most likely an escalating agrarian dispute with a neighboring municipality. The wives and children of many of the imprisoned men, plus a few other relatives, now lived unhappily downtown, their misery in plain view of anyone who took a turn around the square. But such encampments were stable, their residents keeping protests within bounds in the usual circumscribed physical space and in an established etiquette, and were tolerated by the authorities. This July, no such encampment was to be seen, and this absence was oddly disorienting. Instead, dozens of middle-class protesters had tables dispersed among the informal sales booths on the square. These protesters directed their anger not only toward the authorities but also toward the tourists whose financial infusions into Oaxaca were blamed for propping up the repellent status quo. This created a peculiar mosaic throughout this central public area, whereby many Oaxacans explicitly welcomed outsiders as potential customers while a significant minority just as clearly and publicly did not. Most of the salespeople on the square represented families that make crafts for a living, crafts designed to please tourists (for examples of these products, see figures 1 and 2). Their goals are not in any grand political arena but are instead immediate and intimate—that is, to bring home enough money for dinner and shelter, and to do so day after day. Through an ever-evolving, informal, yet meticulous analysis of tourists’ aesthetic and philosophical inclinations, the craftspeople and salespeople try to find common ground between what their family members
  9. 9. preface ix can make and what the visitors will buy. The amount they earn seldom exceeds a pittance, but it doesn’t take much to beat local daily wages. These families and their activities present a fascinating composite story, with paths of interaction between locals and tourists evident not just in conversation and in money changing hands but also in the nature of the artifacts and festivals they create. These objects and events must please both makers and purchasers for tourism to be sustainable in both socioeconomic and psychological terms. At the same time that most of these salespeople, like most of the citizens of the city of Oaxaca and environs, find being friendly to outsiders a natural product of enlightened self-interest, the protesters work at cross-purposes with that hospitable majority. They do work hard and, lately, with an effectiveness out of proportion with their numbers. Their banners and their spoken rhetoric make clear that they want tourists to go away, since much or most of the money generated by tourism supports a social order the protesters ardently wish to overturn. It is not new for the square to offer a visual juxtaposition of many poor people looking pleasant doing their jobs earning money serving affluent visitors while other citizens assert that the local power structure is acting badly on a grand scale. But what I saw in 2007 illustrated a new development, that the explicitly unhappy part of the cultural collage had literally gotten out of the box, escaped from one defined rectangle on the square to a peppering of smaller locations, no longer as easy for tourists to skirt, ignore, or consider as piquant punctuation of quaint sights. <#> Oaxaca has long attracted authors because of its rich history—evinced especially in spectacular ruins—and its even richer present, notably the cornucopia of indigenous ethnic cultures bubbling into the views of both tourists and academics through festivals and crafts. The state is home to forms of most of the types of crafts produced in Mexico, but Oaxaca is known especially for handwoven rugs and hand-carved and hand-painted wooden figures (called alebrijes). The rugs and figures have inspired a few attractive, semischolarly coffee table books, aimed at folk art enthusiasts and collectors. All these books are direct products of the interaction of tourism and tradition in Oaxaca, and all feature the combination of information and celebration typical of good guidebooks.
  10. 10. Figure 1. Two rugs woven in Teotitlán del Valle by the sons of Felipe Hernández. Inexpensive, small rugs (about 14” x 20”) offer a training opportunity for young weavers; their inevitable inconsistencies in technique do not add up to dramatically visible errors within such limited physical space. These two rugs contrast in general brightness, reflecting what Felipe believed were changes in customer taste between 1994 (pastel rug) and 1998 (brighter rug). Figure 2. Animals carved from copal wood and elaborately decorated (with house paint), made in the late 1990s in San Martín Tilcajete by María Jiménez Ojeda and her siblings. The brothers carve, and all paint (to María’s patterns, since she is the best-known artist in the family).
  11. 11. Figure 3. The Danza de la Pluma, the most famous and spectacular of the dances making up the giant festival called the Guelaguetza, on this occasion performed on the square in Oaxaca city in support of a protest (lasting several years) advocating the release of numerous political prisoners from the village of Loxicha. Figure 4. The Loxicha protest encampment on the Oaxaca city square, late December 1999. Children painted the colorful banner seen here.
  12. 12. xii   preface The best of these specialized books I have encountered as of this writing (in 2008), starting with the most thorough, include Andra Fischgrund Stanton’s Zapotec Weavers of Teotitlán (1999, with photography by Jaye R. Phillips), an especially effective wedding of lovely pictures and informative prose; Shepard Barbash’s Oaxacan Woodcarving: The Magic in the Trees (1993, with photography by Vicki Ragan); Arden Aibel Rothstein and Anya Leah Rothstein’s Mexican Folk Art from Oaxacan Artist Families (2002), which concerns many types of Oaxacan crafts and contains sections on rugs, alebrijes, and black pottery; and John M. Forcey’s The Colors of Casa Cruz: An Intimate Look at the Art and Skill of Fidel Cruz, Award Winning Textile Weaver (1999). All but Forcey’s book are printed in color throughout, and all make their impact at least as much through excellent photographs as through prose. There is just one similar book on local festivals, Mary Jane Gagnier de Mendoza’s beautiful and eloquently written Oaxaca Celebration: Family, Food, and Fiestas in Teotitlán (2005). State-sponsored videos for sale in museums, in tourist-oriented stores, and on eBay document each annual recurrence of Oaxaca’s massive festival, the Guelaguetza. In a parallel stream, there are many fine books on politics in Oaxaca. My favorites—if that is a suitable word given the gravity of the subject—are those by Arthur Murphy and Alex Stepick (Social Inequality in Oaxaca: A History of Resistance and Change, 1991) and Lynn Stephen (several books, most recently Zapotec Women: Gender, Class, and Ethnicity in Globalized Oaxaca, 2005). A few meticulous studies try to bridge the worlds of crafts and politics, the most recent being Michael Chibnik’s Crafting Tradition: The Making and Marketing of Oaxacan Wood Carvings (2003) and W. Warner Wood’s Made in Mexico: Zapotec Weavers and the Global Ethnic Art Market (2008). The present book is most closely allied to those. It is my own attempt to negotiate a pair of simultaneous equilibriums, one between politics broadly understood and ethnicity as expressed in crafts and festivals aimed at tourists, the other a matter of presentation, trying for the happy marriage achieved by Stanton and by Gagnier de Mendoza between prose and photography (I’ve balanced each thousand words with a picture). I introduce the basic concepts threading through the book with a case study of a handwoven pillowcase from Chiapas, in the mountain-
  13. 13. preface   xiii ous south of Mexico. The following two chapters widen the lens to the crafts and the central festival of Oaxaca, a state neither quite as far south nor as mountainous, and one with similar problems, which, however, are less susceptible to concise analysis. In the fourth chapter, I discuss crafts and associated culture flourishing outside the tourist-oriented economic and thus artistic gravitational fields (especially in Oaxaca, but with significant reference to Chiapas and to the Yucatán Peninsula). I close with what has to be a somber appraisal of recent events in Oaxaca, developments in which politics and tourism-supported ethnic arts have lost their long-term symbiosis and are very much at odds. I am grateful to my wife Valerie and my daughters Kate and Ellen for traveling with me to Oaxaca several times and to Mérida once, and for putting up with my mix of work and play during what were unalloyed vacations for them. My former student and current friend Dolores Saenz checked my translations at various stages; I would have been much more clumsy without her cheerful and selfless aid. My thanks to the University of Southern Mississippi for the sabbatical during which I drafted the book; to Andra F. Stanton, Terry Zug, Dale Olsen, and Valerie Goertzen for reading late drafts of it; and to Craig Gill and the staff of the University Press of Mississippi for putting up with my highly idiosyncratic wishes once again. Above all, I thank the craftspeople, dancers, musicians, and merchants of Oaxaca, whose courtesy knows no bounds.
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  15. 15. Made in Mexico
  16. 16. Figure 5. A pillowcase purchased in San Cristóbal, Chiapas, in 1997, in use in the author’s home. A woman living in nearby San Andrés Larrainzar wove the central panel on a backstrap loom; a man wove the background cloth (likely in San Cristóbal itself) on a pedal loom.
  17. 17. 1. Introductory Case Study: Tales Told by a Pillowcase from Chiapas A beautiful pillow rests on a chair in our home in Louisiana. I bought the pillow’s colorful cover in May 1997, in the far south of Mexico, in San Cristóbal de las Casas, the only sizable city in the highlands of Chiapas. My trip to the highlands was partly a happy accident. Air fares to Cancún were absurdly cheap that summer, so I flew there, then bussed to Mérida and San Cristóbal in turn, looking for crafts and events that would aptly complement those I encountered on numerous trips to my main research destination of Oaxaca. I would revisit Mérida and San Cristóbal later to further contextualize my experience in Oaxaca, but on this early, serendipitous trip, I already found much of interest. I took photographs of the pillowcase as part of the research for this book. Later I returned to the store and reexamined the case with a tourist’s eye. It was well crafted and reasonably priced, featured colors that drew in but did not jar the eye, bore a region-specific and striking pattern that later could evoke memories of the trip, and would pack easily—all characteristics of the perfect souvenir. It came home with me. Later that year, I read accounts of a massacre perpetrated by paramilitary gunmen in Acteal, a hamlet within the municipality of Chenalhó—just thirty-seven kilometers into the mountains from San Cristóbal. Forty-five men, women, and children were slaughtered over a period of several hours. The victims were sympathetic to—or at least not hostile to—the antigovernment Zapatistas. Precisely how involved the archconservative local authorities were in the attack may never be known, though it is clear that the paramilitary group was financed and   3
  18. 18. 4  tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas trained by the PRI, the ruling party (Nash 2003, xiv), and that state police stationed in hearing distance of the gunshots did nothing to stop the slaughter (Kovic and Eber 2003, 12). Had the killers’ trucks traveled just a few minutes in a different direction, they would have entered San Andrés Larrainzar, the municipio that is home to the weaver of the central panel of my pillowcase. I could not escape the thought that the elegant traditional craftsmanship embodied in that object, the tourism that sponsored its creation, and the wanton violence of this atrocity might well all express the working of the same intertwined factors. Might something similar happen in Oaxaca? Probably not, was my first reaction. After all, the relationship between Indian countryside and mestizo city seemed less strained in Oaxaca. But as I continued to read about Chiapas and as I made more trips to Oaxaca, I began to wonder if differences between Mexico’s two poorest states, the ones with the greatest populations of Indians, might be less matters of principle than of degree, and thus of the timing of dramatic events punctuating longtime tensions: when rather than if violent unrest would occur. But since both the exoticism of the attractions of ethnic tourism and the symptoms of long-term socioeconomic tensions were more extreme in Chiapas, the interaction of these forces was more starkly drawn there through the 1990s. A look at the inevitable, uncomfortable intimacy between what draws outsiders to Indian Mexico and what shocks those same outsiders will serve to introduce the themes of this book. Politics and Tradition in the History of Highland Chiapas Chiapas has always been Mexico’s least accessible state. Though arguably the richest in natural resources, it contains the largest populations of the desperately poor and illiterate (Fábregas Puig and García 1994, 42). For example, Chiapas is the source of over half of Mexico’s hydroelectric power, but over half of the state lacks electricity (Collier 1994, 16). Highland Chiapas, together with the Yucatán Peninsula, neighboring Guatemala, and Belize, is home to about three million descendants of the Maya Indians. As is true in all Indian areas of Central America, principal cities are Ladino (roughly synonymous with mestizo—of
  19. 19. tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas   5 mixed European and Indian blood—but Ladino also includes genetically pure Indians who have moved to the city and adopted mestizo culture). Surrounding villages include some Ladino merchants and more Indians, and the countryside is completely Indian. This is true in much of Oaxaca as well. Highland Chiapas is stunningly beautiful. Mountains rise to over nine thousand feet, and valleys such as the one cradling San Cristóbal are around seven thousand feet. The elevation yields a temperate climate enticing to visitors, but the vistas and climate are not the primary attractions: rather, it is the Indians, whom outsiders perceive as embodying an ancient and intriguing way of life, in addition to being creators of handsome crafts reflecting that timeless way of life. In fact, the “authenticity” of modern Maya life—real or mythical—is not entirely voluntary. The characteristics that anthropologists and tourists find so fascinating resonate with a colonial and modern history unsurpassed in Mexico in terms of the ill-treatment of Indians, and consequently of friction between the few Ladinos in power and the many Indians forced to endure a parade of humiliations. Spaniards arrived in upland Chiapas in 1524 and founded San Cristóbal four years later. The colonial era here—as throughout Mexico— saw Indians decimated by imported diseases, further ground down by forced labor and taxes, and robbed of most of their arable land. But while most of Mexico has experienced some political liberalization and land reform, changes that might reduce the Ladino owners’ power have been vigorously and cunningly resisted here. Further, the meager economic benefits of the minimal reforms that have slipped past the obduracy of the rich have been more than offset by population growth: between 1950 and 1990, the population of the state more than tripled, despite massive out-migration. When the right-wing dictator Porfirio Díaz moved the state capital from San Cristóbal to the lowland city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez in 1891, it was because he considered San Cristóbal to be too conservative. Friction has bubbled into open conflict regularly here, notably in the rebellions of the 1530s, an uprising in the 1780s inspired by a religious vision, the so-called caste wars of the late 1860s, unrest linked to bootlegging in the late 1950s,1 and the Zapatista uprising that commenced in 1994. What is most unusual about the recent
  20. 20. 6  tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas unrest is that it attracted the attention of the press, and this publicity pressured Mexico’s central government to intervene. Today San Cristóbal is a town of about a hundred thousand Ladinos (and a few thousand Indians in slums) surrounded by over a million other Indians. In earlier times, life in the highlands revolved around seasonal subsistence agriculture alternating with labor in the lowlands, a strategy that can no longer sustain booming populations. Authority in the villages remains vested in a complex system that is both religious and civil. Men raise their standing in the community by assuming expensive religious obligations in what anthropologists call a cargo system. For instance, one man might pay for flowers for a year’s heavy calendar of festivals, another might sponsor fireworks, another could pay for musicians’ strings, and so on. The system thus substitutes enhancements in prestige for economic betterment: it promotes financial leveling. Outlying villages like Chamula and Zinacantan fit classic definitions of peasant life: culture is inward looking and carefully circumscribed, social life is intense and largely egalitarian, and religion is critical in the social control of wealth. Nevertheless, the sense of community in even these intensely conservative highland villages is clearly on the wane (see Cancian 1992, 201). It is tempting to believe that this traditional culture came under siege only recently, but that assertion would not merely be false but would obscure a critical factor in the formation of the threatened culture. It is likely that the religion-centered skein of local identities and associated expressive culture—including crafts—has intensified over many centuries as a cumulative defensive reaction to threats to this culture. To become sympathetic to this interpretation, we must shelve romantic views of this tradition as, in the words of Frank Collier, “vestigial or residual [in favor of seeing it] as constituting a dynamic response that Indians make to their peripheral position in a larger, changing system” (1975, 15, following Aguirre Beltran 1967/1979). Indeed, the villages nearest to San Cristóbal, which one might expect to be the most assimilated owing to their proximity to city life, actually remain the most adamantly distinctive. Tourists constitute the third wave of outsiders to invade highland Chiapas during the twentieth century. The first wave of intruders, initially a trickle but cumulatively powerful in effect, was Protestant mis-
  21. 21. tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas   7 sionaries. When the second wave, anthropologists, arrived in substantial numbers in the 1950s, they found that one of their first important tasks was to demonstrate that they were not yet another beachhead of evangelists. Evon Z. Vogt, the distinguished leader of the Harvard Chiapas Project, found that he and his colleagues had to overcome Indians’ initial wariness by smoking and drinking publicly (1994, 103). Perhaps the barriers that scholars had to penetrate before being permitted to study modern Maya religion had been exacerbated by missionary activity. After all, when Protestants advocated abandoning the local religious festival system—an argument with immediate economic appeal, since festival support was so expensive—they were fomenting the overturning of all authority, since religious and civil authority were and always have been thoroughly intertwined.2 Tourism was slow to arrive in San Cristóbal. Guidebooks about Mexico published before World War II almost never mention Chiapas or even Oaxaca (e.g., Franck and Lanks 1942; Garner 1937; Gilpatrick 1911; Goolsby 1936; and Jackson 1937). In 1938, Graham Greene did make a point of traveling to San Cristóbal but found it a challenging destination. The mountains of Chiapas seemed “like a prison wall” that he conquered only by undertaking what proved to be a “hellish mule ride” (1939, 153, 168). Although the Pan-American Highway arrived in 1946 and was paved in 1950, sheer distance continued to impede the flow of travelers. Tourism would not boom until well into the 1970s with the growth of air travel. Today about three-fourths of all visitors are Europeans who fly to Tuxtla Gutiérrez, then bus to San Cristóbal. Some approaches to being a tourist feature reduced mental activity and responsibility through emphasizing physical pleasure, thus justifying Aldous Huxley’s assertion that “we read and travel not that we may broaden our minds, but that we may pleasantly forget they exist” (1925, 12). Conversely, Dean MacCannell described “sightseeing” as “a kind of collective striving for a transcendence of the modern totality, a way of attempting to overcome the discontinuity of modernity, of incorporating its fragments into unified experience” (1975, 13). There is a flavor of a pilgrimage here, which Graburn made more explicit. He noted that “holiday” formerly meant “holy day,” when much of a year’s travel would be spent going to religious festivals. Other types of journeys have largely
  22. 22. 8  tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas replaced the literal pilgrimage over time, but some of the ritual and the hunt for life’s deeper meanings remain (1989, 26). Glassie put it simply: “Tourists today include pilgrims, people serious on their journey” (1993, 322). Of course, today’s tourist-pilgrims vary in how much intelligence and industry they can or care to muster. Also, and of critical importance, the quest that MacCannell and Graburn describe is often—perhaps usually—mixed in individual tourists with the “switching-off ” that topped a survey conducted by Krippendorf of German tourists’ motives for travel (1987, 23). Cohen put his conclusions more diplomatically: while some tourists are discriminating (his higher-toned categories are “experimental” and “experiential”), “recreational tourists, who seek in the Other mainly enjoyable restoration and recuperation and hence tend to approach the cultural products encountered on their trip with a playful attitude of make believe, will entertain much broader criteria of authenticity” (1988, 2). Tourists who journey to San Cristóbal can easily indulge in some “switching off,” since the city is a beautiful location with a relaxing climate and a well-developed infrastructure of hotels and service employees. But most tourists, whether carrying backpacks or Italian leather luggage, do incorporate into their visits some measure of a romantic quest to view an embodiment of an earlier, presumably better—and to them certainly more exotic—way of life. My experience with this tourist population, one to which I belong on some days, is that its members are intellectually active and curious about indigenous culture during their visits, mean well in a general way, and certainly don’t want to hurt the culture on which their holiday is based (I would call them/us “ethnic” tourists or perhaps “romantic ethnic” tourists). But to the Indians, the sheer affluence of these visitors is disturbing: the contrast between the standards of living of visitor and visited is incomprehensible and cannot but inspire envy and suspicion. Throughout history, wealthy landowners took the Indians’ property and sometimes their very lives. But the oppressors despised or ignored Indian culture, which therefore remained the Indians’ own, and a locus of spiritual refuge. When the Indians finally began to accept money to let tourists learn about their religion, and when they began to sell crafts that seemed to bear deep cultural significance, was a soul-robbing
  23. 23. tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas   9 tragedy taking place? Not completely. Such commoditization has often been said to “destroy the authenticity of local cultural products and human relations,” but how this works out in individual cases can be quite nuanced (Cohen 2004, 101). For instance, tourists are prevented from delving too deeply into religion in the highlands by the frequent prohibition of photography, the rationing of entrance into churches, and the barrier of language; it is a rare tourist who can tune into prayers spoken in Tzotzil or any other modern Maya language. I will concentrate here on what we can learn about the maintenance of, and changes in, traditional life from how craft items are designed, made, and sold. One Pillowcase as a Site of Negotiation between Tourism and Tradition Craftspersons who sell their creations may be allowed to express tradition in the best ways they know how, but must make things that fit or can shape the expectations of their customers. Thus the Indians who market hard-won skills and enduring symbols know that the arbiters of the effectiveness of their efforts are their customers. It is nearly impossible to have a conversation with a craftsperson that escapes this commercial shadow, and perhaps it is willful and unseemly to insist on chatting about aesthetics and techniques when the wolf is so near to many of their doors. Nevertheless each craft object represents a negotiation in which artisans’ and customers’ images of authenticity (and of beauty) match, conflict, or can be reconciled. Craftspersons may have to bend a little (or a lot), although their customers might prefer to believe that no such yielding takes place. As McKean noted, it is “especially in the performing and plastic arts” that “tourists expect the perpetuation of ancient traditions” (1989, 126). The ideal craft object is arguably authentic, artfully balances the understandable and the palatably mysterious, and, of course, is visually attractive to both maker and customer. Although many tourists in highland Chiapas base their purchases on perceived authenticity, they generally lack detailed knowledge to inform their judgments. In fact, while both Indian craftspersons and tourists harbor complex notions about what is important in tradition, neither population can easily articulate those notions. I believe that the best
  24. 24. 10   tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas window on the negotiation of authenticity as embodied in the craft object is the testimony of the object itself. In this introductory case study, the witness at hand is a pillow cover, an untraditional object handwoven in traditional ways, one presenting a modern version of an ancient and sacred design, an object made with the tourist in mind. Should we consider its existence a symptom of another layer of colonization, in which the craftsperson must debase his or her work and values to earn a living? Or is it a natural and healthy outgrowth of tradition? We can approach answers to these questions by carefully reading the details of this “text,” the pillowcase. This reading reveals a series of artistic decisions that stake out common ground between craftsperson and customer, decisions that are guided by an intermediary, the director of textiles for a cottage industry. At the same time, we see departures from tradition that follow familiar paths within the process of folkloric intensification (an umbrella term I will employ for the accruing of visual impact—through a fascinating variety of means—that generally takes place when craft tilts toward art). I analyze the following factors: (1) the fact that a sacred design decorates this pillow case, (2) the identity of the design, (3) the size of this version of the design, (4) the number and choice of colors used, (5) techniques of weaving, and (6) the process by which this item was designed and marketed. Sacred Designs on an Ornamental Pillowcase Patterns such as the one on my pillowcase have as their primary home huipiles, elaborately handwoven blouses that bear a carefully ordered series of sacred designs. The huipiles themselves have become important as cultural symbols. But a pillowcase fits into the broad category of samplers, pieces of cloth on which weavers explore the effects of various combinations of patterns and of colors without devoting nearly as much time as is needed to finish a huipil. Moreover, sacred patterns on samplers can escape the weight of tradition and the narrative logic that governs their use on huipiles. Samplers may end up as small tablecloths, panels of purses, and so on; a pillowcase is a plausible use for a sampler.
  25. 25. tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas   11 Figure 6. A close-up of the “ancestors” pattern woven on the central panel of the pillowcase. The Identity of This Design This particular sacred pattern is common in its home municipio, San Andrés Larrainzar. While some designs have up to four distinct meanings (Morris 1987, 116), this one corresponds to a single slightly elastic meaning, variously known as “man and woman,” “father and mother,” or, most commonly, “ancestors.” The man’s arms reach toward the heavens; the woman’s curl toward earth. In many versions of the design, her arms appear in several pairs, with the lower sets representing cornstalks. In a photographic catalog of rugs at a government-sponsored store called La Albarrada, the following sentence accompanies the pattern: “Los antepasados que sobrevivieron el diluvio obedecieron a dios y sembraron maiz” (The ancestors who survived the deluge obeyed God and cultivated corn). A more extended narrative appears in a brochure distributed by the government-sponsored store Casa de Artesanias. The brochure gives the sentence quoted at La Albarrada, then proceeds: “The ancestors protect society and, through dreams, teach the proper way to live. They are supernatural beings like the saints” (Programa Artesanal n.d., 2).3
  26. 26. 12   tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas Figure 7. A huipil (traditional blouse) from San Andrés Larrainzar, for sale in San Cristóbal. While the ubiquitous diamond (universe) pattern dominates, other patterns also appear, notably “ancestors,” employed, as it often is, as a border on the arm and body sections of the garment. Just as both the title and narrative implications of this pattern exist in slight variations, so does the pattern itself. The model of the pattern kept in the mind of the Indian craftsperson is fluid, stored “in dreams,” as they typically put it. When a pattern exists in many versions, the simpler versions of that pattern are the most sacred (Morris, in conversation, May 1997). The form on this pillowcase is near the complicated end of the spectrum of versions of “ancestors” and thus is suitable for use on a primarily decorative object. When presented on a huipil, a row of “ancestors” is often used as a border, as on a contemporary huipil from San Andrés, one of many very similar—but never identical—huipiles for sale in the summer of 1997 in the San Andrés section of Sna Jolobil (see the section on cooperatives later in this chapter). Perhaps the fact that “ancestors” often reposes on a fabric’s edge makes it especially easy to break off for a solo appearance. The design has an impeccable pedigree in tradition, but when it is used alone on an object such as my pillowcase, the visual effect is amplified
  27. 27. tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas   13 and emphasized. Intensification through selection thus helps turn an authentic craft that had been as much aimed at the soul as at the eyes into satisfactory art for outsiders. Another reason that “ancestors” is an apt design to appear singly is that it can be considered broadly representative of all the basic graphic approaches to shaping these designs. Morris places these design motifs in four categories: (1) diamonds representing earth and sky as a unity, (2) undulatory forms (e.g., snakes) representing earth, (3) “forms with three vertical lines which symbolize the foundation of the world, the community and its history,” and (4) representational figures (1984, 11). That “ancestors” is representational helps at least some part of its message to translate easily; the pairing of a man and woman can nowhere seem meaningless. In addition, “ancestors” includes the ground graphic elements of diamonds, curves, and sets of three vertical lines in logical locations within the total design. Diamonds make up the man’s head and the woman’s, and more diamonds align vertically with their heads, marking their place in the universe. The lower pairs of limbs on the woman’s body, which represent corn, curve: the corn issues from the earth. Last, since men have always dominated religion in Maya society, it is the male figure who reaches upward, who touches three vertical lines with each arm and with his head, and whose very body is composed of three vertical lines. In short, “ancestors” presented alone can substitute for a series of many patterns because it really is many patterns in one. The Size of This Version of the Design The design as worked out on my pillowcase is significantly larger than is common, especially on huipiles. Of course, this pattern never gets as small as the most diminutive patterns, such as the diamond (universe) pattern, because “ancestors” has many elements and contours, even in its simplest incarnations. Its large embodiment here pleases customers because the resultant impression is bold, actually hovering nicely between being pictorial and receding into an overall texture. And this size is not too out of line with tradition: this particular pattern is often made larger than neighboring patterns when it decorates the border of
  28. 28. 14   tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas a huipil. Craftspersons for whom time is money welcome larger designs because they are faster to execute. A certain fluidity in the shape and size of each design is built into tradition, since these craftspersons rarely work from sketches or any concrete plan but rather take their inspiration “from dreams,” which do not include exact thread counts. Dreams partake of the supernatural and offer a sacred endorsement of what an outsider might call creativity. The guidance of dreams also helps the weaver to get around a potential practical difficulty: changing the size of a design by certain increments often entails adjustments in shape. This is because weaving, unlike painting, must obey mathematical logic: the weaver can make an image taller or wider by the thickness of three or four or five threads, but not by three and a half or four and a half. If, for instance, a design in one realization is one-third as wide as it is tall, and its height is increased by the thickness of two threads, a faithful maintaining of proportion would require widening it by two-thirds of a thread. The weaver must instead widen the pattern by one thread or not at all, either fattening the figure or narrowing it. The Number and Choice of Colors: Types of Intensification That there are just three colors on the panel of the pillowcase is unusual from a historical perspective but does fit into one of a trio of modern trends. The general practice until recently was for crafts such as huipiles to employ most or all readily available colors. In a typical huipil from San Andrés, for example, the background was white or off-white, the dominant color set woven onto that field was red (or sometimes black), and perhaps a half-dozen other colors were added as accents. At some point, the number of available colors exceeded the number that could reasonably be included on a given article, and self-conscious choice became a larger part of the process of selecting colors. Some modern craftspersons stick to densities of information typical of earlier decades. Indian weavers who sell through the prestigious cooperative Sna Jolobil frequently follow this “classical” approach. They hold to the letter of tradition—the earlier average number of colors and patterns— rather than the spirit, which was to exploit most or all of the available
  29. 29. tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas   15 selection. These huipiles merit their daunting prices because of the high level of their craftsmanship, illustrating intensification through virtuosity. Other modern weavers make their patterns somewhat more dense and use more colors than employed in the past. The governing principle here is “the more the merrier”; in other words, “the more authentic details and colors, the more authentic the piece,” or intensification through addition. This approach yields products that are real eye-catchers in many local boutiques but may seem garish back in Milwaukee. The third general option is instead to pare down visual complexity by employing fewer colors and patterns than was typical historically. This choice offers a rationed fillip of the exotic while matching or complementing a customer’s color scheme at home. Pillowcases like mine follow this model of carefully measured intensification through selection. It is important to note that each of these three avenues represents a historical rupture. The unselfconscious perpetuation of age-old tradition that many tourists prefer to believe that they are witnessing and purchasing and that most salesmen claim is in force is not an available option. The picture is further complicated by the history of dyes used in the Chiapas highlands, a history with parallels elsewhere in Mexico. Craftspersons first used natural dyes. When synthetic dyes for wool and synthetically dyed ready-made cotton thread became available a few decades ago, natural dyes were rapidly abandoned. The new hues were brighter, more numerous, took less time to apply, and were more colorfast. The recent return to natural dyes (and to synthetic colors that look like those produced by natural dyes) resulted from outside intervention. Ambar Past, an American, first came to Chiapas as a culture-oriented tourist in the early 1970s and later settled in San Andrés Larrainzar. She arrived eager to take up traditional weaving employing organic dyes, which she was dismayed to find had fallen out of use. She asked the local weavers about their grandmothers’ dyeing techniques and soon was experimenting with old and new mordants (metallic compounds that combine with organic dyes to keep them from decomposing and fading). Originally working on her own time and nickel, she soon received support (support that an Indian would not have known how to seek)
  30. 30. 16   tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas from various government organizations to study and eventually teach the use of these dyes. At first she had to pay her skeptical Indian associates to work with the natural tints, which they didn’t like, as they found them relatively subdued and “sad.” But their reluctance ebbed when they saw that tourists preferred articles thus dyed. By 1976, Indian women trained in the use of natural dyes by this outsider, who had synthesized some of these same women’s memories of their ancestors’ practices, had joined forces with the weavers and had begun teaching their techniques. Past could bow out, moving on to activities I will describe later in the chapter (conversation 1997). Tourists’ romantic enthusiasm for natural dyes refracted back into the municipio, and soon other villages were employing natural dyes in weavings for their own use as well as on garments for sale. This illustrates a process that McKean termed “cultural involution,” in which a combination of economic necessity and social conservation brought crafts that had been made newly conservative for the sake of tourists back into local culture with that transformation intact (1989, 135). Today a new synthesis is under way, with natural and natural-looking dyes still dominating somewhat in practice and overwhelmingly in rhetoric—but with bright synthetic dyes used too, if sparingly. My pillowcase is of purchased cotton thread (more comfortable than homegrown wool) in colorfast synthetic colors approximating colors available in natural dyes. White is the traditional background color for many types of highland weaving, and bright red a common accent, but the other color on my pillowcase, an extremely dark purple, has no historical precedent. Its effect is of an enlivened black. Of course, the broad impression of dark patterns bearing bright accents, all on a white field, is on target. The only surprise is that the traditional flat black is supplanted by an improved, vibrant version. I doubt that this bothered the weaver. The few colors work together beautifully, and the dark purple offers a complexity that makes up for the untraditional employment of so few separate colors. Techniques of Weaving The pillowcase consists of a decorative panel woven on a backstrap loom by a woman; that panel is set into a larger piece of cloth woven
  31. 31. tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas   17 on the colonial pedal loom, normally the province of men. Women can set up their backstrap looms almost anywhere. These small looms hang in the air, one end extending to a loop wrapped around the weaver’s back—hence the equipment’s name—and the other tied around a tree or to a nail. Women can use such looms as they mind children or sit in the market. There are limits to the size of cloth that can be made on a backstrap loom; larger pieces must be woven on the nonportable pedal loom, on which the sequence of thread crossings is more complex. The visual result of employing these two weaving techniques is that the texture of the cloth in the panel and that of the broader field contrast subtly and pleasingly. The gendered division of labor that went into the creation of this pillowcase has parallels in textiles in Chiapas and parallels in tourist crafts throughout Mexico. The most direct precedent here is in the traditional assembly of women’s outfits. Some women’s outfits, for example, are made up of carefully decorated huipiles made on backstrap looms by women, and plain blue cloth skirts traditionally woven on pedal looms by men. Design and Marketing Kun Kun, the store where I bought the pillowcase, is a fair-minded paternalistic enterprise, which, though run by highly educated outsiders, is operated with the primary goal of improving the welfare of Indians. Such cottage industries try to operate in a manner that respects tradition, and Kun Kun awards adequate (quite modest, but nonexploitative in local context) living wages to employees. The director of textiles, Maddalena Forcella (an Italian married to the store director, the Mexican anthropologist Luis Joel Morales), made many of the decisions I described in the previous sections about the pillowcase. In our discussions, she was not disposed to analyze her decisions as I have, but rather evinced an intuitive grasp of how to locate useful middle ground between her weavers and potential customers. In designing any object, she first selects an old pattern, feeling that customers prefer designs with explainable histories and that the craftspersons she employs may work more carefully with a design that they consider meaningful (though her
  32. 32. 18   tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas own first criterion is that the design be attractive). I noticed that all the textiles in the store had a mixture of traditional and new colors roughly similar to those on my pillowcase but were always rendered in just one or two hues (perhaps over a white background). Kun Kun supports about three hundred Indian shepherds, spinners, and weavers (most working in the municipios, but about twenty in production and sales on the premises in San Cristóbal). I asked who had made the pillow cover that I had purchased. Forcella said that the central panel was woven by a woman living in Bayalemó (a small hamlet fifteen minutes from the center of the municipio of San Andrés Larrainzar). The man who did the rest of the cloth worked on a pedal loom in the store in San Cristóbal. My sense was that all concerned in the manufacture and sale of this craft object were content with how things had been done, and that despite tremendous gulfs of various kinds between craftsperson and customer, this was a minimally stressful transaction in terms of aesthetics, identity, and money. But to what degree does this interaction represent others between Indian and tourist? Craft Outlets in San Cristóbal: Government and Private Stores Tourists arriving in San Cristóbal immediately have opportunities to purchase crafts, and as they walk along the streets that join the main tourist destinations, visitors are never far from such opportunities. To picture San Cristóbal, imagine a lower-case letter t on which the righthand (east) side of the crossbar extends twice as far as the left. The bus station is at the bottom (south end) of the t, where San Cristóbal’s busiest street meets the Pan-American Highway. The tourist walking north toward the zócalo (the square, at the crossing of the t) passes restaurants, hotels, and plenty of souvenir shops. The best boutiques, along with many of the top hotels and restaurants, line up on the crossbar of the t, especially on its eastward extension. The main street above the square (the top of the t) passes the largest churches (near which stand the top textile cooperatives and the open-air craft market) on the way to the main market. And wherever the tourist walks, he or she will be hounded by hawkers carrying woven crafts.
  33. 33. tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas   19 Tourists want crafts to be both authentic—whatever that may mean to them—and attractive. Tourists’ ability to interact with a craft object is determined by how much understanding they can muster, what prices they can pay, and what sizes they can transport. Craftspersons need remuneration for their work, access to the sales site (transportation, type, and location of shop), and prefer to work in a way that reinforces identity, allows some creativity, and maintains dignity. The abilities they bring to bear include craftsmanship (in the sense of learned skills); some combination of memory, research, and imagination; and ideally some modest capital, so they can take the time to make larger items or wait to be paid for finished crafts that are on consignment (rather than accepting the pittances paid by most middlemen). Cooperatives and Government-Sponsored Stores Textile cooperatives and government-sponsored stores offer the crafts that are the most “authentic,” here meaning the closest to how items were made and looked a few generations ago—that is, within the modern era, but before the advent of mass tourism. Painstaking work means high prices, so sales locations must be central enough so that even the tourists with the least leisure, the Europeans whose package tours devote just a day or two to San Cristóbal, will enter these outlets. San Cristóbal’s three main cooperatives are between the square and the market, within a block or so of the big churches. Sna Jolobil (Tzotzil for “Weavers’ House”) is the most successful of these cooperatives partly because it has the best location (Van Den Berghe 1994, 64–65; on the history of cooperatives in Chiapas, see Eber and Rosenbaum 1993). Outlets share a critical element in their histories, the involvement of educated, altruistic intermediaries. The “best” transactions—that is, those most satisfactory in remuneration and mental comfort to the Indian craftsperson and in aesthetics and authenticity to customers—have been arranged through the cumulative diplomacy of culture brokers. Here Sna Jolobil again stands out. Walter F. “Chip” Morris, who now runs the most interesting museum-library-hotel in the city, Na Bolom, has long been the central scholar of modern Mayan textiles. During his
  34. 34. 20   tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas earlier employment with FONART,4 he had guided the formation of Sna Jolobil. Then he left it in the hands of a capable group of Indian women. Such outlets market authenticity by displaying artifacts in ways referencing museums. The Casa de Artesanias, for example, has a side room containing a dozen dioramas illustrating life in specific municipios, several displays including statues of Indian women at backstrap looms. Few huipiles for sale match those in the museum alcove, but an implicit endorsement takes place: organizers inclined to mount a knowledgeable exhibition could certainly sell authentic textiles. Sna Jolobil follows a double “museum” strategy. The entire wall space is devoted to a series of sets of huipiles labeled by municipio. These and piles of similar garments stacked below the educational display are all for sale (at premium prices). One of the co-op managers works at her own backstrap loom just outside the entrance. Salespeople in such stores have been trained (first by the seminal middlemen, then by each other) not to be aggressive—as they are with one another in the market—but rather to wait patiently for customers to ask questions. Thus authentic-looking goods join museum-style exhibitions and outsider-style sales etiquette, an effective combination. Such craft outlets usually focus on the local central craft of textiles in its most complex and traditional form, the huipil. However, samplers in the forms of pillowcases, napkins, and tablecloths are available for the customer who can’t afford or wouldn’t wear a huipil. Samplers don’t seem out of place in huipil-dominated stores but become part of a visual sequence: the visitor sees Indian women with religious patterns on their blouses weaving on a backstrap loom just outside the doorway of the store, then similar garments bearing similar patterns for sale, then those patterns on other pieces of cloth useful to customers. Morris feels that Sna Jolobil has found its own style, basically “classical” (in conversation, 1997); he and the European customers (there are Americans, too, but not so many) have inspired a sort of insiders’ nostalgic romanticism among the members of the co-op. Last, I would note again that the basic folkloric process of intensification is at work here, not in a crowding of effects within given items but through the visual impact of stunning craftsmanship and the juxtaposition of so many different beautiful garments.
  35. 35. tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas   21 Paternalistic Cottage Industries Seeking New Market Niches This category of outlet overlaps considerably with the previous one: they share a type of middleman and, while privately operated, often get grants from the Mexican government or foreign foundations. Customers are discriminating but pursue the spirit rather than the letter of authenticity; tradition functions as an anchor for artistic play familiar to them from fashion in their home countries. Kun Kun, the source of my pillowcase, is such an outlet. The sampler textiles that constitute the second rung of offerings in the cooperatives here assume center stage and have been transformed as outlined in the discussion of my pillowcase. Ambar Past, after stimulating the reintroduction of natural dyes in the highlands, settled down in San Cristóbal and founded the most adventurous of this category of outlets, Taller Leñateros. She speaks of her several dozen Indian and mestizo associates as “experimenting together.” For instance, she paid Indian women to paint images from their dreams, which they had not done before, resulting in a wonderful book (1999).5 Her atelier produces silk screens, woodcuts, handmade paper incorporating flowers, and a bilingual (Tzotzil-Spanish) manual on making and using natural dyes (1980). The attraction of these crafts is both aesthetic and historical—not in the sense of reproducing old things but rather in encompassing long-term change by juxtaposing ancient and modern motifs, such as on a T-shirt bearing a silk-screened illustration of a Maya god (pictured largely as in the ancient codices) happily astride a small motorcycle. Boutiques and Other Souvenir Stores These outlets, the most numerous type, range from elegant to shabby, with quality and price of wares highest near the town square. Most are run by Ladino businessmen whose main motivation is profit. They are not measurably more sympathetic to Indians than are local landowners. (A few owner-managers are American retirees with vaguely left politics who may be willing to accept lower profit margins than do most rapa-
  36. 36. 22   tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas cious local entrepreneurs.) In most of these stores, the craftsperson faces the law of supply and demand, and since overpopulation dictates that the supply is always high, remuneration is reliably, humiliatingly low. This keeps prices in the better outlets below value too, since all stores compete for tourists’ dollars. In addition, the owners of boutiques and souvenir stores have no particular commitment to local goods. These are emphasized because tourists often prefer the local imprimatur on authenticity and also because buying local items entails modest transportation costs and no additional layers of middlemen. Nevertheless a basic willingness to sell things from elsewhere has led many stores to feature not only local textiles but also, for instance, handblown glass from Guadalajara or carved animals from Oaxaca. There are also stores selling only silver jewelry from Taxco or local amber jewelry. Although unalloyed authenticity is always a chimera, in these stores tradition is present much more in rhetoric than in fact. A few huipiles as historically accurate—and thus authentic in a literal sense—as those sold in Sna Jolobil hang beside endless arrays of cheaper ones decorated with varieties of flower patterns (sometimes older local designs, but often not). In the same stores, we also see garments of nontraditional types, such as full-length one-piece dresses decorated with traditional patterns crowded nearly beyond recognition, intensified to the point of caricature. Nevertheless even minimally authentic-looking products can incorporate forms of the processes that shape items like my pillowcase. The most typical decorations added to the gaudiest dresses as supplements to patterns like “ancestors” are of pictorial flowers and birds, which are traditional decorations in some highland communities, even if not the specific community that is the source of the basic pattern on the dress. And decorations placed on “new” parts of a garment are often linked in trails of ornament with embroidery in customary locations. Use of color can be analyzed similarly. But at some point decorations get too crowded, the chains of connections between tradition and innovation grow weak, and an article becomes even cheaper in appearance and meaning than in price. Of course, boutiques do have important functions beyond the enrichment of Ladino businessmen. Many tourists who fly to Chiapas cannot extend their trips to the rest of Mexico and are grateful to have
  37. 37. tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas   23 crafts from throughout the nation available in San Cristóbal. By the same token, craftspersons from elsewhere are happy to make sales far away from their own homes. And many of these crafts do express some sort of authenticity on the national rather than local level. Last, souvenir purchases of any kind can loosen the tourist’s wallet, preparing them psychologically to buy more authentic and expensive goods. Indians Dealing Directly with Tourists: Marketing Heritage (and Subcomandante Marcos) The Santo Domingo Market Many inexpensive crafts are sold by women sitting in rows that have coalesced into an enduring crafts market on the grounds around the Santo Domingo church and the old cloister (itself now occupied by the most prestigious co-op, Sna Jolobil). The location is optimal, since tourist traffic is reliably heavy. The market’s proximity to Sna Jolobil points up some remarkable contrasts. The huipiles sold in the co-op look like those worn routinely a few generations ago, or in revival today, but the blouses sold outdoors are types that can be made quickly and sold cheaply. But while many items offered in the market are historically inauthentic, the open-air experience is more traditional in the routine hard-edged bargaining and in aspects of the ambience that intrigue some tourists and repulse others: crowds, noise, and dirt. Last, whereas the women who run Sna Jolobil come from various hamlets, the families who work in the market come from one town, Chamula (although most now reside in San Cristóbal’s slums). While a few stands concentrate on specialized items (e.g., just belts), most offer the same set of products and must catch a customer’s eye with the particulars of their displays. Sometimes a purchase is the result of serendipity; the tourist has wandered among near-identical stands for just the right length of time to bring emotion and wallet into alignment and is ready to make a selection. Blouses sold here are generally of manufactured thread embroidered on cheap muslin. The type of cloth is traditional not in Chamula but in the lowlands, where men in the village used to do seasonal work. Local women would not make such
  38. 38. 24   tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas Figure 8. A traditional huipil from the village of Bochil, employing a design reminiscent of, but simpler than, those typical on huipiles from San Andrés Larrainzar. clothes for their own families—the low prices of the materials would constitute a false economy. But the low quality matters less when foreign bargain hunters buy the blouses as souvenirs rather than to wear them regularly back home. Figures 8–9 show respectively a traditional blouse from Bochil, a village much less accessible than San Andrés, and a much younger—and much more distinctive—design also from there. This second type sells so well in boutiques in San Cristóbal that it is becoming more popular in Bochil itself and is copied by the hundreds by the women exiled from Chamula who dominate the Santo Domingo market. A second category of goods sold here is sewn toys, little animals and dolls made with scraps of handwoven cloth salvaged from wornout clothing (figure 10); Indian children play instead with cheap plastic toys. Half the dolls for sale in 1997 were a new model, the Subcomandante Marcos doll (he is the leader of the antigovernment grassroots Zapatista movement), which achieved instant popularity with politically liberal tourists. This is not to suggest that the Indians either possess or lack
  39. 39. tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas   25 Figure 9. A relatively modern huipil from Bochil, of a type formerly unusual in that village. Brisk sales of huipiles like this one to tourists in San Cristóbal have made the design increasingly popular in Bochil, although tourists seldom venture there. Figure 10. Stuffed teddy bear made from fragments of worn-out handwoven garments, bought in 1998 from a Chamulan woman in the Santo Domingo open-air market in the center of San Cristóbal. The ears show the pattern most common in many villages, the diamond.
  40. 40. 26   tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas Figure 11. Subcomandante Marcos, leader of the Zapatistas, has become a household totem and highly salable image. Subcomandante Marcos dolls (some on horseback) are sold by dozens of Chamulan women who have sales stations at the Santo Domingo market. respect for the Subcomandante; rather, the doll illustrates the same willingness to use deeply respected images such as crucifixes and the Virgin Mary as decorations for the dashboards of taxis and buses alongside Disney figurines. The new doll is as abstract as the “ancestors” design— a gun and mask are schematic additions on the same order as the three lines above the man and the corn arms of the woman. The Marcos doll is an apt partner for a similar, commonly sold female doll holding a baby (thus a fertility symbol parallel to that of the corn). Collier mentions that Zapatista images also appeared for a while on condom wrappers (1994, 4). I bought a Marcos baseball hat for a friend and enjoyed dining in a restaurant outfitted with Subcomandante napkin holders (figure 11). Marcos wanted to become a symbolic figure, and he succeeded. The last classification of goods sold in the Santo Domingo Market comprises miniatures of dolls, hats, pottery, and so on. These and some of the textiles sold by the Chamulan women were made by the only local residents farther down on the socioeconomic scale, Guatemalans living in squalid refugee camps south of San Cristóbal.
  41. 41. tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas   27 Hawkers Young women, often carrying babies, and countless children working alone pursue tourists down the street, energetically marketing woven wristlets and belts for flexible, small fees. Their persistence corners the tourist into an unpleasant choice, either to be rude to the very people he or she has come to see, or to yield to the sales pitch, thereby acknowledging the unpalatable truth that these particular Indians do not embody a comfortable and traditional way of life but rather are painfully poor. Moreover, making a purchase relieves the pressure only temporarily, as it inspires immediate assembly of a crowd of more hawkers (also see Van Den Berghe 1994, 68). These small weavings are traditional in that they are made on backstrap looms using local wool (though some bracelets have one end just tied to a toe and are woven from there, without a loom). Also, they generally feature the diamond pattern that represents the universe. This might be because this pattern can be shrunk to the smallest size (however, Indian street vendors in Oaxaca weave diamonds less). It is bitterly ironic that while other craftspersons in Chiapas are making a living marketing symbols dear to them, signs of an ethnicity and tradition that they wish to maintain, these mothers and children must sell tiny items representing a way of life that, in many ways, they would dearly love to escape. Crafts and Maintaining—or Transforming—a Traditional Way of Life The average “ethnic” or “cultural” tourist who ventures into the villages surrounding San Cristóbal hopes to witness a mixture of the exotic that they take to be crystallized nostalgia: a simple and fulfilling life on the land. Of course, tourists arriving in Chiapas after the Zapatista uprising began, in 1994, must modify that rosy picture. The fear of stumbling into danger did inhibit tourism briefly, though the rebels took great care not to harm tourists—indeed, supportive international publicity became the best-realized goal of the rebellion. Tourists I encountered in 1997 considered the Zapatistas a romantic eccentricity of the state rather than a threat. However, the disturbance unveiled an ironic truth,
  42. 42. 28   tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas that one of the two states in Mexico that best draws visitors seeking an “authentic,” peaceful, ethnic idyll is in turmoil. Crafts illustrate this contradiction well: they are especially complex in manufacture and appearance and resonate with religious and local identities precisely because Indians reacted to centuries of political and economic repression by cultivating a vivid and inward-looking ethnicity. How craft objects such as my pillowcase are designed, made, and marketed in modern Chiapas illustrates—indeed, fuels—new trends in power relationships between Indians and outsiders in regard to the transformation of religion, in continuity and change in gender relationships, and in how the individual Indian tries to maintain family and village identity. Power The defense that ethnicity offered to the Indians of Chiapas against their ill-treatment by the Ladino oligarchy remained a practical and sustainable psychological bulwark until recently—it was a strategy that mattered to the Indians, but one that the Ladinos could ignore. Now, since it is how Indians look, their public practice of religion, and their crafts that draw affluent visitors to Chiapas, the Ladino businessmen who run San Cristóbal need the Indians to continue to cultivate their ethnicity. This perpetuates centuries of exploitation: most of the tourist money goes to these Ladinos. But the tourists who observe Indians and buy crafts represent the world outside Chiapas, a world capable of being shocked by how the Indians are treated, and exerting pressure on the Mexican central government for reform. The Zapatistas know this: their strongest weapon is the press communiqué. Last, the Indians limit tourists’ access to some of their attractive features and products and thus have slightly more economic leverage with the local power structure than in the past. Each adult Indian represents a commodity valuable to the government, that is, a vote. Nearly every vote from nearly every Indian community ends up on the PRI section of the ballot. Municipio caciques— bilingual Indian intermediaries with considerable power—ensure that the receipt of even the least of government services means a village lined up behind the PRI. But some Indian towns are starting to require more for their votes. For instance, I was told repeatedly that a woman leading
  43. 43. tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas   29 a cooperative in one municipio had successfully demanded money for thread and equipment in exchange for continued loyalty. Most of the paternalistic help that textile cooperatives and cottage industries receive is from Mexicans who came from outside Chiapas and from foreigners. Although any relationship between Indian and outsider is weighted toward the outsider, these strands weaken the historical stranglehold of the local power structure. Through experience with altruistic middlemen, Indians learn business skills that qualify them to work elsewhere. The best intermediaries, like Morris and Past, gradually become dispensable and are happy to turn over well-constructed enterprises to the Indians. This directly affects only a few thousand craftspersons but gives hope to many more. It is important to remember that extensive, minimally exploitative interaction between any outsiders and the Maya is young, and that many of the new supportive relationships concern tourism, especially the production of crafts. Soon there may be more businesses controlled by Indians from bottom to top, from sheep-tending to profit distribution. Religion Protestant sects continue to make inroads throughout the Maya world, as throughout Latin America. Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh-Day Adventists all find converts in Chiapas, but it is hard to know how many locals leave Mayan Catholicism because of conviction and how many do so for economic reasons. Two problems plague syncretic Catholicism here. First, plenty of hard liquor (posh) must be imbibed during festivals, and many men continue their consumption socially. Alcoholism has been a horrible problem in the highlands (see Eber 1995). It’s not as bad today as a few decades ago, owing partly to Protestant preaching against it and partly to a liberal Catholic reaction to losing souls to the Protestants. In particular, an organization called Catholic Action advocates substituting soft drinks for posh in festivals and as routine libations; I saw as much Pepsi as posh in the church in Chamula. The second vulnerability of Mayan Catholicism is the cargo system. Even as incomes fell, the caciques who control the sales of festival essentials (fireworks, posh, flowers, candles) extorted more money for these
  44. 44. 30   tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas goods and organized paramilitary forces to keep the cargo system running smoothly. In several communities, notably Chamula, thousands of Protestants who exited the cargo system were expelled by these bands of thugs. Perhaps twenty-five thousand refugees have ended up in the slums around San Cristóbal. They seek wage labor, but with mixed success. Most of the women and children pressing woven wristlets on tourists are Protestant refugees. In some villages, and in cooperatives such as Sna Jolobil and cottage industries like Kun Kun, traditional Maya Catholics, members of Catholic Action, and Protestants work side by side. They are all Indians, and they share a past, even if their futures diverge. Many converts are “economic” Protestants. For them, dropping out of the cargo system came first: their falling incomes couldn’t keep up with rising expenses. The Protestants offered spiritual refuge and much-needed hospitality in San Cristóbal. Women who are economic Protestants attend their new churches but also pay heed to older religion when they weave patterns like “ancestors.” Gender A few generations ago, Indian men earned some outside income, while Indian women stayed home grinding corn, fetching water and firewood, and weaving their families’ clothing. The men considered themselves farmers, but Ladino landowners kept Indians from acquiring substantial tracts of arable land. For generations, the average Maya farmer cultivated one small plot of rocky soil in the highlands and another in the lowlands and might have found seasonal work on lowland coffee plantations. Today, lowland plots are fewer, many coffee plantations have become cattle ranches (which need fewer workers), and desperate Guatemalan refugees have taken much of the work on the remaining plantations. Highland men may find other wage labor, particularly in construction, but overall their incomes are shrinking. Tourists buy textiles made by women, who then feel “capable and productive” by carrying on tradition-sanctioned work in a time-honored way (Eber and Rosenbaum 1993, 165), and they can now help with family expenses. But this traditional women’s work has expanded to oc-
  45. 45. tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas   31 cupy untraditionally large blocks of time. Sometimes it pays enough that women cannot afford to weave for their husbands and children, instead buying cheap, used town clothes; I saw this especially in Chamula and among refugees from there. Underemployed men dislike these changes. They resent the very thought of fetching water or firewood. Several wives who have taken on a sort of secular cargo by becoming leaders in cooperatives have thereby earned savage beatings. But selling textiles has given women the new option of remaining single. “Why should I marry a drunk?” is an occasionally heard reaction to a widespread problem that many women could not avoid in earlier days (Morris 1987, 70). Formerly, men linked the family to the outside world, to other villages, to the cities where they might find work, and to the spiritual world: hence the three lines constituting the body of the male figure in “ancestors,” and his arms raised heavenward, while the female figure enfolds corn at home. Through commercial weaving, particular in the co-ops formed to serve the tourist market, women who would formerly not have had the self-confidence or opportunity to talk to women from other communities are working and socializing together (Morris 1987, 46). Just a few years ago, a woman who wove “ancestors” into a huipil that she would wear wrapped herself in the traditional role described in that pattern. Now a woman who makes such a huipil for sale or decorates an object such as a pillowcase, something that only an outsider would use, can honor the ancestors while she works but can conceive of living a life different from the life her patterns depict. Weaving for cash takes her beyond the nurturing of corn. How surprising is the shift in gender roles attendant on the growth of income from women’s crafts? The old roles could not be sustained in the economic present. Another model for revised gender roles might be how the sexes relate in the city, but that would constitute a more radical shift than the one caused by working in crafts. Pursuing another visible alternative, exemplified by the Zapatista forces, would be even more wrenching. Women make up perhaps a third of that army and even lead some squads, causing problems even in that “revolutionary” organization. The recasting of gender roles seen in craft villages in the highlands may be the minimum possible in these changing times.
  46. 46. 32   tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas Village and Family The many Maya individuals, families, and villages who wish to hold fast to inherited identity as the world changes swiftly around them do as their ancestors did: they armor themselves in their ethnic heritage. They do this in many ways, some of which resemble the processes by which crafts are intensified. First, intensification through virtuosity offers the easiest parallel, when individuals and groups self-consciously and energetically cultivate knowledge of tradition and expertise in crafts. The huipiles sold in Sna Jolobil that illustrate intensification through virtuosity are made by weavers who embody the behavioral form of this process. Second, people can create intensification through addition by wearing more ethnically specific garments than in generations past, by making a point of speaking Tzotzil or Tzeltal when using Spanish would be as easy, and so on. Last, the intensification through selection so important in shaping my pillowcase is enacted by innumerable Maya every day, when, for instance, they spend more time doing ethnicity-specific tasks, like weaving, than did their mothers, but are happy to give up their mothers’ other daily routines, such as fetching water. Christine Eber and Brenda Rosenbaum, who studied cooperatives in Chiapas during the 1970s and 1980s, found that weavers did not “talk about personal empowerment through the symbols they weave [or] the solidarity they create” but rather spoke of “service to the families and communities, at once practical and sacred” (1993, 175). Payment for handmade textiles remains absurdly low but nevertheless buttresses fragile family finances. And though booming populations still require out-migration to prevent famine, income from crafts keeps some families and villages largely intact. In short, engagement with traditional crafts has become critical to these Indians’ having any chance of maintaining the first ingredient of a traditional way of life, the traditional community. The municipios where crafts help stabilize incomes and community, where hope for improved standards of living has thereby been rekindled—in other words, the municipios with something to lose—may be the ones least likely to support radical change. San Andrés Larrainzar, where my pillowcase was made, is such a community. It maintains a
  47. 47. tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas   33 long history of flourishing cooperatives, has a firm hold on the aesthetic center of the weaving revival—“ancestors” is just one of the lovely patterns associated with this municipio—and has endured many of the difficult changes in gender relationships and other adjustments connected with shifting from a subsistence to a market economy. Its neighbor, Chenalhó, represents the many municipios that aspire to the success of San Andrés. Indeed, as early as 1989, Eber and Rosenbaum found four weaving cooperatives in Chenalhó (1993, 167). But traditional weavings from this municipio are not as appealing as those from San Andrés, both to my eye and in the cumulative opinion of tourists as expressed in how much space is allotted Chenalhó’s weavings in Sna Jolobil (much less than for San Andrés) and in the Casa de Artesanias (none). Weavers from Chenalhó have not been able to garner nearly as much craft-based income as have the truly successful craft villages (167, 173). The massacre in an outlying hamlet of Chenalhó may be interpreted as having resulted from the clash of views concerning how Indians can improve their collective lot. The crafts movement offers modest incomes and the prospect of gradual betterment. While the money earned is seldom substantial, it has the advantage of originating for the most part outside the country, independent of the vicissitudes of the Mexican economy. Conversely, the Zapatistas insist on dramatic and immediate change. The national government responded to the rebellion with its own rhetoric and with an effective strategy of double containment. Mexican troops now surround the Zapatista army, and the villages just outside the revolutionary forces’ rural enclaves are receiving money for jobs, housing, social services, and infrastructure such as roads, government-run stores, and potable water systems (Russell 1995, 84). The villagers welcome this money but consider it overdue and apt to evaporate when the immediate crisis subsides. The Zapatistas rub conservative Indians the wrong way by, for instance, elevating women into positions of command: having women assume responsibility in weaving collectives has been grating enough. Worst of all, the very flare-ups in publicity that inspire some cynical government expenditures drive away large numbers of tourists, thereby abruptly depressing the economy of the entire highlands. The men who attacked the municipio’s outlying hamlet of Acteal at the end of
  48. 48. 34   tales told by a pillowcase from chiapas 1997 were not just following the orders of rapacious caciques; they were fighting against a community whose sheltering of Indians sympathetic to the Zapatistas could be seen as taking food out of their own families’ mouths. In such incidents, Indians who want food, land, and the chance to retain some measure of traditional identity are pitted against other Indians who have the same desires, but different ideas about how to attain those goals. Pierre Van Den Berghe ends his book on tourism in San Cristóbal (1994) with a section titled “What Went Right?” He cites factors that include an optimal degree of outsider access to the area, the intrinsic attractiveness of the Indians, climate, and scenery that “ethnic” tourists are not apt to pollute, and the sensibly small scale of ongoing local development (147–51). My argument, in contrast, has focused on how the “attractiveness” of the Indians to tourists stems from long-term oppression, and on how, despite the great degree to which the tourist industry perpetuates historical exploitation, making crafts can be done in a way that “selling tradition” does not injure it significantly. Moreover, the modest income from crafts helps protect aspects of traditional life. The Zapatistas desire faster and more comprehensive improvements. Which combination of paths to sorely needed change will prove most valuable is impossible to predict. Some form of armed struggle will continue— after all, this too is part of local tradition. At the same time, tourism and sales of crafts will continue to offer modest, steady support for gradual change in the highlands. In the coming chapters, I will examine how these factors play out in Oaxaca, a field that is larger and more complex in various ways.
  49. 49. 2. Crafts and Tourism in Oaxaca Indian hunter-gatherers lived in Oaxaca as early as twenty thousand years ago and added agriculture to their strategies for survival as early as 7000 BC. The “three sisters” that sustain many peasants today—corn, beans, and squash—have been staples for at least as long as villages have existed, that is, since about 2000 BC. To hunt they had spears and bows and arrows; to cultivate they had digging sticks. Many other tools must have been part of daily life long before traces of them were left for archaeologists to find. At some point the Indians began making their everyday objects with techniques and results that reached beyond the purely utilitarian; they added creative panache to the building process and thus were making crafts artfully. Crafts in the History of Oaxaca through the Advent of Tourism The oldest surviving exemplars of the main southern Mexican craft categories are shards of pottery; a few ceramic figures that also bear depictions of cloth skirts, sandals, and jewelry. The need for furniture required carving wood. Burials with jewelry, favorite possessions, and food and drink constitute our first evidence of ritual. By about 500 BC, villages grew from handfuls of dwellings to clusters of several hundred residents, and social classes began to emerge. For example, a village near the current site of the city of Oaxaca housed specialists who cut and polished magnetite into mirrors for trade (Whipperman 2000, 18). And some of the early pottery illustrates differentiation between rather plain, functional pieces and finer, more decorated ones for the upper classes.   35
  50. 50. 36   crafts and tourism in oaxaca The fertile Oaxaca valleys nourished an increasingly stratified society, one headed by priests and soldiers but also including architects and artists. A calendar rationalized the yearly cycle of events, and written script eventually came into being. Ancestors of Oaxaca’s Zapotec Indians founded Monte Albán above the junction of the three central valleys. This and a dozen smaller ritual and administrative centers flourished on defensible hilltops through about AD 750. During the peak of population, roughly AD 500 through 750, social differentiation was also relatively great. As one consequence, pottery became relatively elaborate (Murphy and Stepick 1991, 14). War was a constant, but why this civilization dissolved remains unclear, as mysterious as the demise of the Mayan empire in Chiapas and the Yucatán, and of Teotihuacán in the central valley of Mexico. Throughout Mexico, cities that had been vassals became independent states. In this Zapotec territory, the lack of focused power invited invasion by the nascent Mixtec people, gathered together by the warlord known in surviving codices as Tiger Claw. Mixtec nobles forced marriage with Zapotec heiresses. Although few Mixtec speakers remain in the central valleys today, both ruins and modern crafts display a fascinating mix of Zapotec and Mixtec artistic traditions. The Aztecs arrived in the valley of Mexico around 1250 and ruled it within a century. As part of a general expansion of their territory, they subjugated the city of Oaxaca during the 1400s, establishing a garrison at the site of present-day Oaxaca by midcentury. Tribute paid by the Zapotecs took various forms depending on what a village had to offer. Teotitlán del Valle, located about thirty kilometers outside Oaxaca, sent four hundred bundles of embroidered cotton fabric and eight hundred bundles of wider fabric every three months, according to an exhibit in modern Teotitlán’s municipal museum. The Aztecs’ energetic combination of war, diplomacy, and forced political marriages was never enough to subjugate the entire state of Oaxaca. The conquistadores would be more successful. The chronology is compelling: Cortés and his band of adventurers arrived from Cuba near present-day Veracruz in 1519 and took over the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán by 1521. A central strategy was to gather allies from peoples subject to the Aztecs, including the Zapotecs (though the Mixtecs initially
  51. 51. crafts and tourism in oaxaca   37 resisted). By the end of 1521, the Catholic mass had been celebrated in the region of Oaxaca, and the Spanish were firmly in power throughout the state within months. When Cortés presented New Spain to his king, he claimed a reward: the valley of Oaxaca. He received rights to most of the good valley land and would himself grant encomiendas (rights to land and the labor of the resident Indians) to friends, relatives, and children. However, Spanish squatters repeatedly occupied the site of the old Aztec garrison and were eventually allowed to remain there. Their town, Antequera, became the city of Oaxaca. The Spanish commanded garrisons, large ranches, and anything resembling a cash economy, and they controlled many Indians on their haciendas. But they had little to do with the rest of the native population, which, while dramatically diminished by disease, still vastly outnumbered the colonizers. Much of the work of integration, reorganization, and assimilation devolved on missionaries—in Oaxaca, especially the Dominicans. They wanted to save both souls and bodies and took flexible and practical approaches to these linked tasks. They were able to teach dogma and ritual because they learned and employed Indian languages, even as the Indians acquired Spanish. As in many parts of the world colonized by Catholics, native religion soon mixed Christian and pagan elements; adopted European saints and ceremonies bore both overt and less-obvious native personalities and characteristics. The missionaries also both learned from and transformed local agriculture and crafts. Oaxacan tomatoes and peppers went to Europe, but the top export was the red dye called cochineal. The church fathers encouraged many villages to concentrate on one or another craft for purposes of commerce, often building on preexistent specializations. For instance, while working with wool was new in the Oaxaca village of Teotitlán del Valle—sheep arrived with the Spaniards—weaving cotton was already important there. And the residents of the pottery center Santa María Atzompa, which rests on the unexcavated outskirts of Monte Albán, were encouraged to continue to specialize in that craft. The dynamics among transplanted Spaniards evolved swiftly. Newly arriving authorities guarding the king of Spain’s interests curbed the powers of the rapacious conquistadores, and secular and sacred authorities also clashed. Conflicts between various groups often focused on
  52. 52. 38   crafts and tourism in oaxaca the treatment of Indians. Agents of the crown took a longer view than did the conquerors—working Indians to death was bad economics— and the clergy, following the lead of the Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas, favored humane treatment of the “savages.” Oaxaca’s importance waxed and waned. The city lost its function as a pivotal southern trade station to Acapulco in the late sixteenth century. A promising silk industry in the mountainous Mixtec region of the state lasted only from about 1548 to about 1570; abused Indian workers soon rebelled and cut down the mulberry trees sustaining the silkworms. But silk weaving did not die out completely, and this abortive attempt to found one kind of weaving industry set a foundation for a broader effort using wool and cotton, one linked strongly to the ready availability of cochineal. There were over five hundred cotton or silk looms in the city of Oaxaca by 1792, and Indians were forced to produce cochineal in an oppressive system similar in terms of economics to sharecropping in the southern United States (Murphy and Stepick 1991, 27). Then the Wars of Independence squelched cochineal and other Mexican industries after 1810, and most cochineal production shifted to Guatemala. During a brief period of stability while the Oaxaca native Benito Juárez was president of Mexico (1848–52), crafts centers including Atzompa temporarily reattained some level of economic viability. But for most of the nineteenth century, Oaxaca shared in the turmoil that kept Mexico from emerging from poverty. The arrival of a railroad line in 1892 gave the local elite access to foreign goods, but there was less economic progress and change overall than in northern and central parts of Mexico (Murphy and Stepick 1991, 32). Little violence disturbed Oaxaca during the Mexican revolution in the second and third decades of the twentieth century. That lack of disturbance was positive at the time but had an unfortunate aftereffect. The leaders of the country during those times acquired no special affection for the state for this reason (peace meant nonparticipation in the revolution) and other reasons as well (Oaxacans made a few ineffectual attempts to break the state away from Mexico), leaving Oaxaca underfunded by the federal government. Persistent social and economic inequality yielded sporadic unrest, which resulted in the army frequently occupying the city center during the remainder of the century: in 1950,
  53. 53. crafts and tourism in oaxaca   39 to resolve a dispute between coffee growers and Oaxaca’s elite, during a land-squatting episode in the 1970s, and so on. Oaxaca has been slow to recover from such times and from periodic economic crises, in part due to the lack of significant industrial activity. When the Pan-American Highway arrived in Oaxaca in 1948, manufactured goods like plaid dresses, cheap shoes, and plastic or inexpensive porcelain kitchenware became more readily available to the general populace, though the industries producing such goods did not arrive along with the products. At that time, there was little reason to invest in this city, which, while located in a pleasant complex of valleys, was surrounded by mountains traversed only by endless curves of narrow roads. There was a potential advantage in this: being able to pay wages lower than the average for Mexico; per capita income in Oaxaca has long hovered at about a third of the national average (Hulshof 1991, 21). But the advantage of lower pay was more than erased by the geographic disadvantage: transportation expenses would have eaten into profits too much. Indeed, there is still no significant industry in Oaxaca, and subsistence agriculture is simply not enough to support the populace (14). Tourism fuels the economy now, though this factor mainly affects the central valleys, a few beach resorts, and cities along the highways. Crafts in Modern Oaxaca: The Example of Black Pottery How do crafts fit into the broader socioeconomic landscape today? With most portable necessities owned by the working class now available as cheap manufactured imports, continuing to make many things by hand for local use became an unaffordable luxury. But mass-produced goods arrived so recently that the physical and mental habits of personal craftsmanship never passed from living memory. And certain crafts were never displaced completely. These included items important for maintaining a sense of regional identity, such as handwoven clothes worn for ceremonial purposes (though daily wear shifted to cheap imports), and articles occupying specialized niches, such as pots made in shapes and sizes not readily available in plastic or aluminum. Indeed, the minimal extent of industrial development in Oaxaca meant that the occupation of handmaking crafts could not be as swiftly or fully aban-
  54. 54. 40   crafts and tourism in oaxaca doned in favor of factory jobs as had become common elsewhere. At the same time, mass-produced imports could not always substitute for locally handmade products. For instance, weavers of serapes further north, in Tlaxcolo and Texcoco, gave up that craft in the 1950s in favor of the improved wages available due to the burgeoning of industry there. In contrast, weavers in Oaxaca’s Teotitlán had far fewer such lucrative alternatives for employment, and, in a complementary factor, there was still some call for serapes for local use. Yes, cheap coats were available, but the convenient shape of the serape and the fact that serapes shed water effectively made them better for much outdoor work, and Oaxacans would make them for lower wages than were now acceptable in the north and central parts of the country. Tourism became a major global industry following World War II (Cohen 2004, 1). The same trains and trucks that conveyed manufactured goods to Oaxaca also began to deliver a trickle of tourists from more prosperous parts of Mexico. That trickle became a rivulet when air travel became feasible around 1970, and steadily increased thereafter. In contrast to Chiapas, a majority of the tourists visiting Oaxaca remain Mexican nationals, though U.S. citizens and somewhat fewer Europeans are important constituencies and are critical in the support of craft communities. Tourists who fly in can buy souvenirs in the airport in booths freely juxtaposing both local and national crafts with generic souvenirs (T-shirts, etc.) in a compact preview of shopping opportunities to come. They also immediately see references to the Guelaguetza, the splendid local festival encompassing Mexico’s most extensive and colorful variety of dance performances. Indeed, many tourists planning trips to Oaxaca come in July so that they can attend one of these massive shows. The factors that discouraged economic growth for so long dovetail with those that encourage and nourish ethnic tourism. The black pottery of San Bartolo Coyotepec offers the simplest illustration of this. Coyotepec had long been a center for the production of large, sturdy gray pottery containers for mescal or other liquids, these pots being ideal for portage by mules. But these containers’ function was assumed by lighter, inexpensive plastic jugs in the late 1940s. Could the potters of Coyotepec survive as such? One woman found an answer. In the early 1950s, Doña Rosa Valente e Nieto changed her technique in two ways.

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